Joe Biden has been officially sworn in as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris as the 49th vice-president. Biden received a record-setting 81,281,502 votes en route to kicking Donald Trump out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., and though those votes came from a diverse coalition of American voters, make no mistake about it, Black people were the driving force for the Biden-Harris victory.
Both the new president and vice-president have acknowledged this. For Biden, a presidential campaign that started off at an electoral deficit to Bernie Sanders was turned around emphatically from a crucial endorsement by Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn as voting for the Democratic primaries rolled into Clyburn’s home state, South Carolina.
Clyburn’s co-sign galvanized a huge amount of Black voters who were skeptical about Sanders’s ability to unseat Trump in a general election. Biden was touted as “trusty ole Uncle Joe” that was Barack Obama’s co-pilot during the eight years of Obama’s historic administration. Conversations around much of Biden’s problematic history regarding race and mass incarceration was swiftly silenced as soon as a vast majority of Black voters opted to gamble on his moderateness and Oval Office familiarity over Sanders’s “political revolution.”
And after Harris who was a fierce opponent to Biden in the Democratic primaries decided to drop out and was picked by Biden to be his running mate, it upped the ante on the old “ebony and ivory” one-two punch that served success to the Obama-Biden campaign. In selecting Harris, Biden was able to cover a wide swath of voter demographics that had not seen the representation she embodied. Here was a Black and south Asian woman that was an HBCU graduate, member of a Black Greek-letter organization, career prosecutor and U.S. Senator.
The plan to assure the Black vote was practically writing itself.
Then, without hesitation, the Black electorate began to work magic on Biden’s behalf. Trump’s blatant racism and catastrophic handling of the coronavirus pandemic should have made defeating him a less laborious task than it was, but Trump was still empowered by half a nation tethered to white nationalism, xenophobia, the myth of a winning economy and at its most fringe, white supremacy.
So Black folks went to work. Organizing amid a pandemic and violent acts of systemic racism. Phone-banking, rallying, providing celebrity endorsements, holding prayer sessions, canvassing, fighting voter suppression to show up at the polls in spite of a public health crisis.
Doing everything in our power to rescue this democracy from the grips of a president hell-bent on eradicating any progress people of color had benefitted from, and who held a deep desire to restore the “great” days of Black folks being unable to effectuate change politically.
The efforts Black America exhausted to help secure an electoral victory for Joe Biden was never about Black folks not having reservations about Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris for that matter. What we knew was that Trump posed an existential threat and that Biden, at his worst, would govern with familiar systemic oppression. And after years of a very real hazard of Nazi-like demagoguery, good old fashioned American subjugation seemed like an appealing direction to take.
More than anything though, Black folks rallied behind Biden, Harris and the Democratic apparatus from the same place of unwavering blind faith as we have for decades, hoping that our faithfulness would yield different results this time around. And what America knows about Black folks is that we have had to walk in the faith of its democracy being what it professes to be in order to retain any modicum of civility.
When we talk about the promises of democracy or lift our voices to sing American anthems coded in racist language, we are doing so from a place of hope and undergirded by incremental progress. We need to believe that the blood of our ancestors or the blood of those who walked among us did not spill in vain. We need to have faith in the process, lest we run the risk of going insane in a land rife with inequity.
Black folks need to believe in the prospect of America treating us better in order to keep birthing new generations into this wilderness. Even when that belief is rooted in imagination and reality is a “Whites Only” sign that shapeshifts with every election cycle.
Do I want to believe that equity and justice and prosperity will flow in abundance for Black folks under the Biden-Harris administration? Absolutely. But my best wishes do not shield me from the reality of what this place is.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and every facet of lawmakers on the federal, state and local level are governing from a flawed manual that was not composed with Black folks in mind. They can endeavor to make changes to move the needle of equality, but there would have to be a total dismantling of the current social order and a full revision of the founding documents that details, with specificity, equal treatment granted to descendants of enslaved Africans in America.
But America changes with the speed of shackled feet because it knows we will remain faithful in our longing for it to do right by us. It knows that we will put our whole selves on the line to prevent it from ever seeing us again as three-fifths.
So it advances our humanity at its leisure.
About the Author
Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate, and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be
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